Discover your Giving Portfolio

Just as an investment portfolio helps you track and understand your investments, a Giving Portfolio does the same for your philanthropic activities. I discovered that keeping a portfolio of what causes and people I am contributing to, in a way that mirrors what investment portfolios look like, has been a soulful way to shift how I relate to the world and to myself.

The Giving Portfolio helped me exit a multi-year period of self-worth issues around wealth following the successful growth of my business. The answer lay in finding my own sustainable balance with giving back, and the Giving Portfolio helped me plan, visualize, and align with this giving/living balance.

In maintaining my giving portfolio, I have also noticed that my generosity with myself has increased significantly as my giving has been increasing since starting this process.

Interest in giving back often comes up in conversations at entrepreneur events I participate in, with many people not knowing where to start. When talking about my journey in those discussions, I’ve been asked numerous times to explain my process with the Giving Portfolio concept. There are a lot of people who, having found financial success, know intuitively that simply hoarding money or seeking more of it for its own sake will not bring happiness. It is in response to that need I am writing this article. If more money gets donated and more people develop an intentional practice of aligning with their giving potential, then this article will have met its intention.

For those reading this with less financial resources, I believe the article can also help. Philanthropy is not the domain of billionaires. Your portfolio’s amounts are less important than what the causes mean to you, and also what those numbers represent in terms of % of earnings or % of net worth.

Philanthropy is ultimately anything you do for love of ‘other’ than yourself. Philanthropy literally means ‘loving’ mankind.

In the rest of the article, it is my pleasure to walk you through how to create your Giving Portfolio, and how I discovered mine.


Introduction to the Giving Portfolio

A Giving Portfolio is a spreadsheet tracker I came up with in a few years ago where I maintain a budget per calendar year of what I have donated and plan to donate, be it money, in-kind donations, etc. Whenever I look at the plan, I continue refining and changing what’s upcoming, as I continue gaining clarity about myself and what matters to me.

What am I a change agent for in this world?

This is the main question that the Giving Portfolio can answer. What matters to me? What do I want to contribute to? What upsets me about this world? What hurts? I don’t have much advice in this article on how you can decide what to give to, I am mainly presenting a process in which your priorities will emerge over time.

I can offer from my own experience that the causes that seem to resonate most are those connected to past emotional wounds, especially those from childhood. Causes related to past traumas are those that seem to have the most emotional charge. We naturally want to help others avoid pains we have gone through ourselves. Our empathy on such causes is highest.

Even this article itself is motivated by me connecting to some of the pain I felt (more on my story in the 2nd half of the article) and wanting to help others who are currently in that place move through it faster.

Structure of my Giving Portfolio

You can design yours anyway that suits you, below I am presenting what mine has evolved to, as an example to help you get started.

2017 Portfolio (intentionally blurred, summary details coming later in the article)

The table to the left lists the name of the cause, person, or charity. The middle columns capture info about the donation, which are used to generate the tables and charts to the right to create high level perspective. In detail:

Giving by category. Blurred area is amounts per category.
  1. Category — what the contribution is about in my own words; what does it mean to me? Is the giving related to education, medicine / healing, children, environment, women’s safety, etc? By naming what each give is about, I can group donations, to generate this table to the left and graph below. This helps me notice patterns of giving that resonate with me.
  2. What relationship the recipient has to me (family, friend, unrelated). This helps separate contributions that are to those close to me from those that are not. It helps me understand how family plays into my giving.

These columns enable me to create charts, which help me better understand and connect to what I’m giving.

My 2016 cause giving, excluding family support. 2017 was less diversified (see below).

With these charts, you don’t have to be contributing large dollar amounts to feel perspective on your giving, it’s the wider mix and your labeling that will help you understand your priorities.

Creating Safety around Giving

When you give, you don’t have.

This is an old rhyme from my eastern European heritage. The statement always felt wrong to me. I think it reflects a fear response that comes up when thinking about giving. Even right now, if I imagine giving $1000 in the next 5 minutes to someone, I can feel a fear response. Can you, upon feeling that question? What if one day I need that $1000 and I don’t have it?

Giving, like any other behaviour, lies on a spectrum between fear and love. In the absence of fear, we have safety, and if we always knew we would be safe, wouldn’t we naturally give more? I think so.

The Giving Porftolio helped me to build an understanding of what my giving capacity is, how much I can systemically give without putting myself at long term risk. This way I could assuage my scarcity and fear reflex.

Reflect on your giving as a % of your earnings and net worth

I look at the year over year growth of my Giving Portfolio and reflect on what % of earnings I have given, which creates a feeling of SAFETY. I can see that even if the number feels big, it’s only 2%, or 5% or 10% of my total earnings that year. It’s reassuring to know that I’m still safe, I still have the other larger share of my income retained.

When viewed from a % of net worth, the number may be heroic or very small, depending on where you are in both giving and net worth.

These comparisons may seem obvious, but this is an emotional exercise. Looking at it this way over the last few years has motivated me to give more by reducing scarcity fears.

The purpose of these reflections is to put giving in context of sustainability and safety. If you’re feeling a yearning towards finding balance with giving in your life, these methods can help you.

Lower in this article, in the section on my personal story, I’ll also touch upon some third-party guidelines for how much to give, that helped put these ratio’s into perspective.

Update it with everything

As you create your portfolio for the first time, add everything you are giving. The point here is to build an inventory so you can reconnect with your giving, it’s not to hold anyone to account. It’s to see yourself anew. Be accurate with your record keeping, it will help you understand yourself better.

Beyond the obvious charitable organizations you may be donating to, add in odd ball things too:

  • crowd funding, gofundme, patreon campaigns
  • in-kind contributions (if you donated furniture, food, clothing, put a estimated current value)
  • written off loans to friends or companies you ‘gave’ to with help rather than investment in mind
  • “lent” assets unrealized returns — the value in dollar terms of money you have forgone for another’s benefit by lending them cash or assets

In my portfolio I also record gross amounts distributed from any sources I control, including donations made by companies I direct. Owners of private companies can do the same. For example, C4Media has a 1% of profit donation program. Every year, we divide the donation budget amongst all our staff and each gets to decide how it is donated. Each must share the charity they chose on our internal social network, which creates a lot of buzz. This program offers the gift of philanthropy to everyone in the company. I add the total funds donated as one line item in my own portfolio.

Include support for family members NOT dependent on you

I feel that this portfolio should capture the giving you do that is beyond yourself, it’s about helping “others” and I believe ones own immediate family is part of ‘self’, at least for the duration of time that you have dependents or you are dependent on others in a family home situation. So I don’t advise recording things you’d do in the normal course of your role as parent, for instance.

Record family giving which you feel, based on your own understanding of philanthropy or charitable assistance, is going above and beyond for your loved ones.

In my own Giving Portfolio, I include family giving that would not generally be expected of my role within my cultural/family context. In fact the bulk of the giving from past years when I had first drafted my portfolio was for my non-dependent family and that already began to re-frame in my mind the role of giving in my life. Feeling the impact of this on uplifting those around me motivated me to give more to the wider community, as I explain in my background story below.

Perhaps starting in circles closest to us is a way for to directly feel and grow the effects of giving, from extended family to local community, to local region, country, and eventually globally.

Planning your next year’s Giving Portfolio

Fall through New Year’s season is a good time for an annual review. Look back at what you have given, update your spreadsheet with a plan for next year.

Add in anything from the previous year that you intend to continue funding, be it one-offs that you intend to repeat some time next year, or which recurring monthly donations you plan to maintain.

Reflect on your next year:

  • Are you still committed to these causes?
  • Does supporting these causes still bring you joy?
  • Do these causes connect to a deeper need you see for the world?

Looking forward, add items with budgeted amounts for causes that you’d like to explore funding next year. Perhaps you’re not ready to decide right now, or you don’t know enough about the cause yet; however, you know there is something there that you feel an urge to explore. Adding a placeholder now with an amount next to it will make the intention feel real and mark this to be revisited later.

Add in a budget for emergency relief — do you want room in your budget for the next hurricane, earthquake, etc? We often feel helpless when natural disasters inevitably occur. Budgeting for this upfront will help you respond without hesitation or feeling you have to compromise other causes you want to fund.

Outline your forecast with as much detail as feels right, so you can see your annual total add up to where you want it to be, even if you don’t yet know exactly how the funds will be disbursed.

As discussed above, reflect on that total as a % of earnings or net worth and look at your giving diversification to get comfortable and aligned with your plan.

Monthly Review

I check the portfolio at least once a month, sometimes googling what is new with the organizations I have given to this year, or reviewing emails from these organizations that may have accumulated. The review process helps me emotionally reconnect to those initiatives and feel part of their progress.

As I say in my business, your dashboards are only as good as your meeting rhythms to review them, and the same is true for the Giving Portfolio. It is after all a dashboard to track an important outcome.

I’ll also find myself reviewing it when I have something new to add, even small donations in the tens or hundreds of dollars.

Reviewing the portfolio increases the emotional ROI of the initial contribution. I can feel the emotional reward of giving many times as I look back, reflect, and catch up with what has been going on with that person or cause.

Recording donated time vs. donated money

In discussing the concept of a Giving Portfolio with some friends, they suggested including in the portfolio cash value for time one spends on various volunteer activities such as board work.

I think tracking volunteering time would be a great practice and is also likely to create great joy and like the Giving Portfolio, inspire one to give more time. I haven’t tried time tracking yet. I would suggest keeping track of volunteering time separately from the portfolio which is centered around financial contribution.

I don’t agree with putting a dollar value of time in the Giving Portfolio itself to be valued next to financial donations, just as one wouldn’t include time in a traditional investment portfolio.

As any successful entrepreneur knows — you scale by delegating to save time. You can scale your impact by giving to organizations capable of accomplishing your philanthropic outcomes. The world surely needs more money circulating for just causes, and I don’t want my volunteering time to carry weight away from my giving potential in the form of money.

It’s about emotional ROI, not tax efficiency

I don’t use the tracker to tabulate charitable giving for tax purposes. I just add up the gross total and reflect on that as a % of my own gross pre-tax earnings from all sources. It’s about who I am and what I’m about, it’s not about tax planning.

It’s easier to say no when you’re aligned with what you’re a yes to

Another interesting byproduct of this exercise, is that it’s easier to say NO to sudden asks for charity that come your way.

When I feel a desire to give something new, perhaps because a charitable ask popped up on Facebook, I’ll open the portfolio to see how it fits and ensure the contribution is intentional and not impulsive. I know what I’m a change agent for, I plan for it. If someone asks me to give to something that is aligned with the portfolio, I can give with ease. If it’s not, then there is less discomfort in saying no.


How I discovered my Giving Portfolio

I grew up poor. Touring rummage & garage sales for clothing with my mom was a weekend tradition. My parents had scarcity mentality, typical of people who survived communist Eastern Europe. There was always tension around money in the house, even later on when household income increased.

In the 5 years before coming up with this Giving Portfolio concept, I had a lot of shame around wealth. 8 years into my business, things were finally starting to pay off and I was able to get some serious dividends that put me in financial abundance. But this abundance didn’t match my self-image. I identified with the work and the hustle, and generally held a negative view of contemporary examples of rich people’s conspicuous consumption.

I felt uncomfortable with being wealthy while there was still so much misery around me and in the world. I wondered if I deserved it. I didn’t want to stick out and be so different from my friends or the staff working with me in the business.

It’s not that I have a problem with having wealth or am judging rich people, but I fundamentally feel that wealth kept for wealth and material consumption’s sake only, is immoral. We are also at a time of unprecedented inequality in western countries, and I want to be part of the solution, not the problem.

Having been a long term student of Buddhism, I feared the types of attachments and cravings that could come — fulfillment of cravings tend to beget more cravings. Yet I discovered that Buddhism didn’t criticize wealth, it cautioned against attachment to wealth as the main problem, and the Buddha advised a balance towards helping oneself, friends & family, and society at large.

A kind man who makes good use of wealth is rightly said to possess a great treasure but the miser who hoards up his riches will have no profit. — Buddha

I had done a few donations in the year’s past, the largest was $2000 to a local women's shelter. Women’s safety seemed to connect to a very old suffering from my childhood, creating a personal connection that made supporting that cause very meaningful. Still, this amount was low compared to what I could now do financially.

I wasn’t satisfied with my level of giving back, compared to what I have. I didn’t have clarity on what my giving back looks like, and without that I didn’t feel okay being generous with myself.

Even with my company having a good purpose statement, and a 1% of profits donation CSR program, I still didn’t feel inner alignment.

So in the summer of 2016, while on a personal retreat, I decided to confront myself on this issue. The first thing I did was list on a spreadsheet what I had already been donating in the past several years. The numbers added up in a way that surprised me. Wow, I did all that? When I added up all the random one-off crowd-funding's, disaster support asks I responded to from FB, small favors I did for friends, my own company’s 1% for profit CSR program, things I had been doing for my parents, sister, nephew, it was a lot more than I expected.

When I compared the total donated to my earnings in 2015, it came out to about 5%. I felt good, so I started playing with the spreadsheet a bit more. I created a plan for the rest of the year and the following year, including causes that I would like to contribute to, with budgeted amounts, and those I intended to repeat support for, on a monthly or annual basis.

As I added more intentions to the sheet:

I could see that giving more was not going to be a threat to my survival, real or imagined.

In that retreat I was able to see myself in a new way — I was already having impact, and more importantly, I could plan to even double my giving and I would still be SAFE. 10% of earnings, is still 10% of new money, it doesn’t affect my savings.

It was an identify shift, seeing myself in a new way

Being a systems thinker, I was looking for a frame in which to see the amount of giving — is it too low, too high? I learned about the following annual giving guidelines:

  • Tithing’ — a practice in Judaism where they advocate giving 10% of your earnings.
  • Zakat — in traditional Islam, this practice means paying a wealth tax of 2.5% of your networth to charities.
  • Wealth tax — I read in Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the 21st Century, that the world needs a progressive wealth tax of 1% to 2% for millionaires and over 5% for billionaires, to end extreme inequality and avoid the cycles of inequality that have lead to catastrophic corrections (war, revolutions, plague) in the past.

I saw that being able to put giving in CONTEXT was helping me develop a deeper self awareness.

Being a systems thinker, I naturally wanted a fancier spreadsheet. :) I googled ‘giving portfolio’ and surprisingly nothing came up. So then I googled for stock investing portfolio spreadsheets, and adapted one to my needs. I wanted it to resemble a real investment portfolio, since the ROI on my philanthropy is as important to me as real profit on assets.

After that retreat, I referred back to my sheet whenever I would make a new donation. I’d add the row, and stop and reflect, looking at the totality of it. I’d reflect and update any new intentions for the rest of the year or the following year.

Every time time I’d look at the sheet, my sense of safety, confidence, and alignment around giving would increase.

At the same time, I noticed a huge shift in my own capacity for generosity towards myself. I bought a Tesla, although I previously I felt guilt around spending that kind of money on something I didn’t need.

My self-worth issues changed. I now felt that I had found a healthy balance between having and giving. I started to feel that I could see myself as wealthy in a good way because I knew my role in making our society be a better place.

And deep down I knew that this was only the beginning. Just giving for giving’s sake isn’t the goal, it’s about the causes that I want to align myself with. It’s about what I want to be a change agent for. Thinking in this manner was very exciting, my life was no longer just about me.

A world with wealth is okay in balance with a healthy society, and I felt that I have found the balance I was looking for: to be able to do good, while doing well.

Shameless plug for universal basic income

As 2017 came around, my intention around this practice increased. As I reflected on why I was prioritizing the specific causes on my portfolio, I realized that they were all related to a deeper theme — safety, existential security, people’s ability to self-actualize and meet their true potential. Collective evolution.

I came across the concept of Universal Basic Income, the idea that we could enable for everyone an unconditional monthly cash payment, just enough to meet basic needs. If we had this, it would go a long way towards addressing many of the problems we are facing today, including poverty and its affects on health, education, crime, women's empowerment, etc. It would create economic security and enable a long term mindset for the working poor, while creating economic stability and psychological safety for everyone else. This cause, seemed to be a way to scale all of my giving priorities. It’s a simple concept that would scale to everyone. I like system solutions that scale more than one-offs. :)

After a lot of research to determine that a UBI is indeed affordable, and beneficial, I began dedicating a larger share of my Giving Portfolio to this cause.

I want to be wealthy in a world where everyone is okay too. Really okay, with true freedom and choice, sheltered from unnecessary financial stresses and fears. I want my giving to allow people’s full potential to shine — not just stay ‘alive’ with ‘access’ to things they can’t afford, in constant fear worrying about their next meal.

Basis Income is also a huge economic stimulus that is pro-business, pro-free market, and that will bring safety and security to our economies as they are faced with globalization and automation increasing inequality. We can have a compassionate capitalism, where innovation flourishes and the economy uplifts everyone.

So in 2017 it’s the basic income that got an increasing share of my attention, and that is likely going to increase in 2018.

If you are interested in adding the universal basic income cause to your own Giving Portfolio, I would be happy to share a talk of what I’ve learned so far and help you navigate the best options you can fund. Let me know.

In conclusion

I am pushing on new barriers with giving these days.

Giving increases with confidence

My confidence level with giving is up and my fear has decreased since beginning this practice. I have found clarity and alignment, and I am planning ahead. As a result, my contributions have increased. I’m now giving an amount close to 10% of earnings annually through my Giving Portfolio.

I hope business earnings continues to improve, to even further disrupt these ratios and challenge me to give even higher percentages of earnings and net worth.

Conceptually, I know it could give a lot more. Fear is still the main obstacle. I hear about heroes like Jim Estill, a mega-successful entrepreneur who has set a cap on what amount of wealth he needs to have to feel safe, and beyond that gives 100% of his earnings. That’s inspiring and courageous. I suspect from his story that he’s significantly wealthier than me, but I also feel that I shouldn’t wait to start aligning my life with giving back.

If we wait until whatever imaginary number we think we need to reach before we can develop a giving practice, we could miss significant opportunities — big and small — to create change in the world. By delaying our personal journey of philanthropy, we risk taking action too late, both for ourselves and for those who need our support.

This is why the Giving Portfolio has been an ongoing process to discover and evolve my capacity to give, and I know the journey still has a long way ahead.

I hope you find success with this tool! I have no doubt that discovering your Giving Portfolio will bring you joy and create impact for the world.

l leave you with a fortune cookie I opened a long time ago and kept in my wallet ever since. I kept it as a good luck charm, it seems it has finally had its impact. :)

Fortune cookie I found in the mid-2000’s and kept in my wallet ever since

Special thanks to Mélissa Calixte, Greg Nichols, and Cory Chadwick for your help with strategic advice and copy editting, the article is vastly improved wiht your help!